The value of non-Buddhist literature?

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The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:08 pm

Here is something I've been thinking about:

What value is there in reading non-Buddhist literature while the samsaric clock is ticking?

We should use our time wisely, so reading garbage, like watching garbage television, is generally unwise.
But then when it comes down to reading non-Buddhist literature, what is useful and what is garbage?

As much as I enjoyed Tolkien, I don't see the Lord of the Rings as particularly useful to overcoming samsara.

However, that being said, there is a lot of literature in history that might be useful to even the ordinary Buddhist in understanding the development of the religion in different time periods and cultures. What do I mean here? I mean in the case of India reading the Rg Veda, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and such. In the case of East Asia: Confucius, Menicus, Xunzi, Laozi, Zhuangzi and so on. I've found that sometimes there are allusions in Buddhist stuff to non-Buddhist literature that the reader of the time would have understood. In some Chinese works there are even direct quotes from Confucius to help prop up an argument the author is trying to make. Moreover, understanding the literature of a certain time and period might help to understand a particular author's thoughts, environment and background. The history is likewise essential to understanding "the big picture" in which Buddhism operates.

From that perspective, a broad reading of select non-Buddhist works is likely to benefit one's understanding of Buddhism, no?

Basically what I'm asking is if Confucius, bless his filial heart, is useful if we want to understand East Asian Buddhism better?

I would say yes. What do you think?
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Mar 16, 2010 4:48 am

Huseng wrote:Here is something I've been thinking about:

What value is there in reading non-Buddhist literature while the samsaric clock is ticking?

We should use our time wisely, so reading garbage, like watching garbage television, is generally unwise.
But then when it comes down to reading non-Buddhist literature, what is useful and what is garbage?

As much as I enjoyed Tolkien, I don't see the Lord of the Rings as particularly useful to overcoming samsara.

However, that being said, there is a lot of literature in history that might be useful to even the ordinary Buddhist in understanding the development of the religion in different time periods and cultures. What do I mean here? I mean in the case of India reading the Rg Veda, the Upanishads, the Ramayana and such. In the case of East Asia: Confucius, Menicus, Xunzi, Laozi, Zhuangzi and so on. I've found that sometimes there are allusions in Buddhist stuff to non-Buddhist literature that the reader of the time would have understood. In some Chinese works there are even direct quotes from Confucius to help prop up an argument the author is trying to make. Moreover, understanding the literature of a certain time and period might help to understand a particular author's thoughts, environment and background. The history is likewise essential to understanding "the big picture" in which Buddhism operates.

From that perspective, a broad reading of select non-Buddhist works is likely to benefit one's understanding of Buddhism, no?

Basically what I'm asking is if Confucius, bless his filial heart, is useful if we want to understand East Asian Buddhism better?

I would say yes. What do you think?


Yes. If we seek liberation for ourselves alone, then forget all that. If we seek to have the wisdom and means to liberate others, then often a whole heap of other stuff is very helpful.

Last night, during a lecture on Theravada Abhidhamma, our dear Prof was arguing against the notion that "an arhat is selfish". I also agree, an arhat is not selfish. He listed out four types of persons, in order:

1. Those who seek neither benefit for themselves nor the benefit of others.
2. Those who seek no benefit for themselves, but seek the benefit of others.
3. Those who seek benefit for themselves, but not the benefit of others.
4. Those who seek both benefit for themselves and benefit for others.

This is from a sutta. He was arguing that the arhat first seeks their own benefit, then that of others. Thus, they are not selfish. He also mentioned about other things that are not Dhamma per se, and said, for instance, that arhats would still have other abilities. Some may be better at expressing the Dhamma, etc. A poet who became an arhat would still be eloquent in expression.

Sounds fair enough, I thought. I also then thought that it is not necessarily the case that arhats seek benefit of others, though. So, I asked him: "For the sake of benefiting others, would those other abilities, such as expression or poetry, be useful in addition to liberation?" He conceded, "Yes, they would."

In Mahayana terms, this fourth type is the Bodhisattva who becomes a Buddha. A Buddha is also a type of arhat.

So, do we wish to be type #3 or #4?
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:31 am

Huifeng wrote:So, do we wish to be type #3 or #4?


I volunteer for #4! :smile:

However, it still begs the question is reading something like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is going to be useful in cultivating Bodhisattva liberative arts.

I can imagine in some situations it does (like having cultural currency so to speak and utilizing it when attempting to elucidate something that people will then easily grasp).

On one hand reading Xuanzang's adventure might be more Buddhist, but then that has little cultural currency while Frodo's trip to Mordor does.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:15 am

A short response:

The art of story telling is essential for teaching little kids. And bigger kids, too.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Lazy_eye » Tue Mar 16, 2010 12:41 pm

If there's one non-Buddhist book I'd personally recommend above all others, it would be "Anna Karenina". Tolstoy's insights into human nature were deep.

I might also add Chekhov's short stories, at least one novel by Dickens, Bronte's "Wuthering Heights", the Greek tragedies, and Shakespeare. Just my two cents :)
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Astus » Tue Mar 16, 2010 5:21 pm

"As a Bodhisattva always comes to live in this world in order to save the sentient beings, he/she must be proficient in all kinds of worldly knowledge and skills. Thus, he/she should have a good profession for earning a living and serving the other people. Through all these actions, he/she can gather the other sentient beings and show them how to cultivate the Buddhist Way. A Bodhisattva must have a good knowledge of the Five Sciences."

Five sciences (pancavidya):

Language (Sabda)
Craftsmanship (Silpakarmasthana)
Medicine (Cikitsa)
Logic (Hetu)
Philosophy (Adhyatma)

Source
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby kirtu » Tue Mar 16, 2010 6:34 pm

Huseng wrote:However, it still begs the question is reading something like Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is going to be useful in cultivating Bodhisattva liberative arts.
...
On one hand reading Xuanzang's adventure might be more Buddhist, but then that has little cultural currency while Frodo's trip to Mordor does.


In order to master an art form you have to learn from others. Es gibt kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen - No master just fell from heaven.

As a modern example, Dzonsar Khyentse and Neten Chokling learned from Bernardo Bertolucci.

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 16, 2010 9:56 pm

Even in the Theravada literature, the Buddha seems to have had a lot of worldly knowledge, including everything from how to effectively rule to toilet construction. He certainly used this knowledge in his communications with others, and in his teachings it shows up sprinkled in his use of similes and metaphors. (It'd be really cool if someone were to make a similar index for Mahayana Sutras).

I happen to be very interested in mythology and the study of other cultures and religions, and I don't consider it a waste of time, as it certainly helps me connect and communicate with others, and get a perspective on Buddhism. More often than not, it increases my confidence that the Buddha's teachings are the way to go!

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:00 am

How about questioning the value of buddhist literature? Much of it seems to me to be more in aid of just building a bigger and better and maybe more palatable samsara. A more "spiritual" delusion.
Ride the horse in the direction its going.

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby meindzai » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:11 am

m0rl0ck wrote:How about questioning the value of buddhist literature? Much of it seems to me to be more in aid of just building a bigger and better and maybe more palatable samsara. A more "spiritual" delusion.


If it leads to the continuation of clinging, etc. doesn't that make it non-Buddhist by definition?

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Mar 17, 2010 1:40 am

meindzai wrote:
If it leads to the continuation of clinging, etc. doesn't that make it non-Buddhist by definition?

-M


Maybe, unless buddhism is part of the delusion. Was the buddha a buddhist?
Ride the horse in the direction its going.

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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Mar 17, 2010 4:05 am

m0rl0ck wrote:
meindzai wrote:
If it leads to the continuation of clinging, etc. doesn't that make it non-Buddhist by definition?

-M


Maybe, unless buddhism is part of the delusion. Was the buddha a buddhist?


He didn't accept the teachings of other traditions as valid. Only the teaching of the tathagata lead to liberation.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Mar 17, 2010 5:21 am

m0rl0ck wrote:How about questioning the value of buddhist literature? Much of it seems to me to be more in aid of just building a bigger and better and maybe more palatable samsara. A more "spiritual" delusion.


Realizing that the Dharma "goes against the stream" of worldly ideas, the Buddha new that not all people were capable of or even willing to walk the path to liberation from samsara (at least, in their then present condition). As such, he often first taught the path to happy human and divine rebirth. Those who were capable, he taught the path to liberation. But they were probably rather a minority.

If we are such great teachers that all of our students are of this high capacity, then to speak against such teachings of a "more palatable samsara" would be in order. But otherwise, compassion and skillful means indicates that we must teach others according to their capacity.

Morlock, my I ask what kind of teachings you teach your students?
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 17, 2010 5:42 am

Greetings venerable Huifeng,

Huifeng wrote:If we are such great teachers that all of our students are of this high capacity, then to speak against such teachings of a "more palatable samsara" would be in order. But otherwise, compassion and skillful means indicates that we must teach others according to their capacity.


I can understand how this would apply to an everyday worldling, but does this extend to bodhisattva-aspirants too?

What if someone makes "high" vows but doesn't have the required capacity to properly receive those "high capacity" teachings? What would be the outcome for a teacher in adapting "compassion and skillful means" in such circumstances?

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby plwk » Wed Mar 17, 2010 6:58 am

This came to my mind...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
"Endowed with these five qualities, a lay follower is a jewel of a lay follower, a lotus of a lay follower, a fine flower of a lay follower. Which five?"

And the last one is...
...does not search for recipients of his/her offerings outside [of the Sangha], and gives offerings here first.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Ngawang Drolma » Wed Mar 17, 2010 7:53 am

Wise words, plwk :namaste:
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby m0rl0ck » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:01 am

Huifeng wrote:Morlock, my I ask what kind of teachings you teach your students?


Im not a teacher, but to get back to the subject of reading, and speaking from my own experience, i would have been better off not to have behaved as if the example we were given by the buddha was sitting under a tree reading a stack of dharma books.

EDIT: and btw my apologies for diverting the discussion to buddhist reading matter
Last edited by m0rl0ck on Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:21 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings venerable Huifeng,

Huifeng wrote:If we are such great teachers that all of our students are of this high capacity, then to speak against such teachings of a "more palatable samsara" would be in order. But otherwise, compassion and skillful means indicates that we must teach others according to their capacity.


I can understand how this would apply to an everyday worldling, but does this extend to bodhisattva-aspirants too?


Hi, Paul,

Do you mean bodhisattva-aspirants in the teacher role, or student role? (As I kind of mention both.)
In the teacher role, well, to have bodhisattva aspiration is to want to be a Buddha, a teacher of gods and men. I think that is pretty clear.

In the student role, more complex. Some have the aspiration, but are real beginners, others have more depth. But, either case, if one is a student of the bodhisattva path, then we are saying we also wish to be teachers (ultimately!), and so need to learn all manner of teachings to guide all beings.

I've known more than a few great Mahayana teachers who, when provided the opportunity to learn something rather mundane, eg. webpage design, take it up with interest. They know that it is a way to teach certain people. But, for those who approach them with more depth of understanding, they can teach sila, samadhi and prajna, too.

I don't know if that answers your question or not?!

What if someone makes "high" vows but doesn't have the required capacity to properly receive those "high capacity" teachings? What would be the outcome for a teacher in adapting "compassion and skillful means" in such circumstances?

Metta,
Retro. :)


You are right, some students fit that category.

The outcome would be that they would be able to at least practice to some meaningful extent, while setting up intention towards going further. If one only aims high, often many people just can't get anything at all, and thus will not pursue the path in the future.

The biggest challenge is when one is addressing a range of students at the same time. Teaching an individual is easier, if you know them to some extent.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:28 am

m0rl0ck wrote:
Huifeng wrote:Morlock, my I ask what kind of teachings you teach your students?


Im not a teacher, but to get back to the subject of reading, and speaking from my own experience, i would have been better off not to have behaved as if the example we were given by the buddha was sitting under a tree reading a stack of dharma books.

EDIT: and btw my apologies for diverting the discussion to buddhist reading matter


Sorry, I'm not so clear. Which "example" are you referring to?

The OP is referring to non-Buddhist literature, so I don't see the implication of the Buddha reading anything.
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Re: The value of non-Buddhist literature?

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:33 am

Greetings venerable Huifeng,

Thank you for the answers!

Do you mean bodhisattva-aspirants in the teacher role, or student role? (As I kind of mention both.)


Yes, both.... though I was mainly thinking from the "student" perspective, except for the last question where I mainly thinking from the "teacher" perspective.

Metta,
Paul :)
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